We are often told that God is all-merciful, that he is mercy. I can’t argue with that, because, well it’s true. God is also all-just; he is justice. God is mercy, and God is justice. The two cannot be separated in Him. In fact, God’s justice is his mercy, and God’s mercy is his justice. The prophet Habakkuk struggles with this in today’s first reading. He sees wicked people prospering, and he doesn’t understand why God allows them to continue existing. He thinks God needs to punish them now. If you look at the selection of verses we read, you’ll see that we skip quite a few right in the middle. In the section we skip, God replies to Habakkuk, reminding him that the unjust, the unrepentant, the evil will be repaid, eventually. Habakkuk is not satisfied with this answer. He demands to know why wicked people are allowed to destroy—to swallow up—the good, the faithful, the just. God replies again, but He doesn’t give Habakkuk a time line for the destruction of Israel’s enemies. Instead, he promises that time “will come, but in the meantime the righteous must persevere, believing that the salvation, the promise of which is communicated through prophetic revelation, will eventually be theirs (2:2–5).” 1
Habakkuk could very well be prophesying in our own day. It seems that people who are obstinate in their sin, who commit evil acts every day, are allowed to run rampant. We see political leaders commit crimes and atrocities all over the world. We even see evil committed by those who have solemnly sworn before God to lead his people and shepherd his flock. I can’t blame anyone for crying out to God, “How long must we suffer, O Lord?”
While we echo the prophets cry, we must also be attentive to our Lord’s response, which contains two critical components. First, God will give those people who commit evil and sin exactly what is due to them. Hell is a real place. If we do not all repent and strive to follow the Lord, it is very possible to spend our eternity there. Obviously, I would not desire or wish such a fate upon anyone, but it is for that exact reason I must warn you that it is possible. God will never tire of forgiving us when we turn to him, especially in confession; however, he will not be duped. He will not suffer hypocrites who claim to follow him in their words, but through their actions show that they could not care less. The prophets of the Old Testament warn us of this, and throughout the Gospel, Jesus confirms this teaching.
The second component of God’s response to Habakkuk is that we must persevere. The Gospel reminds us today that we are servants of God, and we must “do the work,” so to speak, that he has asked us to do. Jesus reminds us that we must remain strong in our faith. He does not expect us to be able to do this on our own. He has given us many gifts so that we might grow in our faith. He gave us the sacraments so that we may be sanctified, made holy, and grow closer to him. In Baptism, we are welcomed into God’s kingdom and the wound of original sin is removed from our souls. In Confirmation, the gift of the Holy Spirit is deepened within our hearts. In the Eucharist, we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord and enter into Communion with Him, all the Saints, and all of our brothers and sisters in the Church. In Confession, the repentant are forgiven of their sins and given the grace and strength to continue following the narrow path the Lord has asked them to walk. In anointing of the sick, our Lord heals the sickness of our souls and sometimes our bodies. In matrimony, couples assist each other to grow in holiness, and they assist God’s church by bringing to life new members. In holy orders, God ensures that his people have ministers to give his people all of these sacraments.
Brothers and sisters, we cannot despair in troubled times. We must remember the gifts that God has given us to persevere in our faith. Paul reminds us to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. Let us remember to call on those gifts of power, love, and self-control, to be strengthened in our faith.
October 6, 2019
27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4; Psalm 95; Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10